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Haiku D'Etat: Haiku D'Etat

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One of a few innovators who created the West Coast hip-hop underground in the early '90s, Aceyalone has made an influential if commercially marginal career out of defying expectations and pursuing goals far loftier than those of his peers. At a time when Dr. Dre's G-funk revolution dominated the West Coast, Aceyalone's Freestyle Fellowship posited a fiercely individualistic alternative that took its cues from the experimentation and brainy lyricism of progressive East Coast hip-hop rather than the thugged-out hedonism of its California neighbors. Now a hip-hop elder statesman, Aceyalone continues to lead by example on his wonderfully idiosyncratic third solo album, Accepted Eclectic, illustrating how to age in hip-hop with integrity, wit, and compassion. In an underground where even undeniable talents like Cali Agents and Dilated Peoples undermine the distinctiveness of their work by portraying impersonal battle-rap warriors, Aceyalone's music feels personal and organic. Which is not to say that he can't spit hip-hop braggadocio with the best of them, because he's a terrific battle-rapper: smart, funny, and full of lyrical curveballs. On "Golden Mic," he speeds up his normally conversational flow to a dizzying rapid-fire blur, while the irresistible "Microphones" ranks alongside Run-D.M.C.'s "Me, Myself And My Microphone" as a note-perfect ode to the life-affirming powers of the mic. Of course, paying tribute to the foundations of hip-hop isn't novel, but it takes a mad genius to create hip-hop perfection out of a topic as cranky and atypical as the need for personal space, as Aceyalone does on Eclectic's best song, "Five Feet." Trumpeting his need for breathing room with a joy seemingly at odds with his subject matter, he goes from neurotic to futuristic within a few lines, rapping, "I hate crowded elevators / and downtown rush / packed trains / And crazy people on the bus / Sometimes I roll plush, looking so Cold Crush / But I'd rather teleport through space, so you can bite my dust." Even in his vices, Aceyalone tends to be prickly and specific: He may like weed just as much as the next rapper (it helps with his rheumatism, after all), but he lets it be known on "Five Feet" and "Master Your High" that he has zero tolerance for sloppy stoners who can't conduct themselves with dignity or self-restraint. It's hard not to love a rapper who subverts even his most materialistic track, "I Got To Have It Too" (a spirited reworking of the Ed O.G. song), with a casual reminder that there's nothing wrong with riding the bus, but his welcome humility is just one reason Eclectic is a small-scale gem full of offhand brilliance and disarming humanity. In addition to his gig as the head of Freestyle Fellowship (which reconvenes regularly for benefits), Aceyalone also makes up one-third of the indie hip-hop supergroup Haiku D'Etat, whose terrific, widely unavailable 1999 debut has just been reissued on micro-indie Pure Hip Hop. Uniting Aceyalone with Freestyle Fellowshipper Mikah 9 and fellow A-Teamer Abstract Rude, Haiku D'Etat's self-titled debut picks up where Freestyle Fellowship left off, exploring the outer boundaries of hip-hop with a bohemian aesthetic steeped in a love of wordplay, poetry, and the limitless possibilities of hip-hop. In the world of Haiku D'Etat, real MCs ride bicycles instead of Bentleys, join forces out of a love of collaboration rather than a desire to consolidate fan bases, and make albums rooted in the sum history of black music, from jazz to soul to dancehall. It's a terrific world, and on Haiku D'Etat, Aceyalone and company are nice enough to let listeners share it with them, at least for an hour or so. Like Accepted Eclectic, Haiku D'Etat gets better with each listen, with every spin yielding a greater appreciation of the three MCs' chemistry and the surprising layers of subtlety and sophistication lurking beneath the deceptively simple production. With Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone laid the foundation for West Coast underground hip-hop. Accepted Eclectic and Haiku D'Etat prove he's still a leader of the scene he helped create.